opening weekend.

Two-thousand eleven was slipping away with each tick and every tock.

Despite the mild temperature, I saw few people outdoors on my drive to Holtwood Park.  New Years festivities may have been well under way but they were either happening elsewhere or behind closed doors.

Fine by me.

The first face I saw was a friendly one.

Gary climbed out of his truck, delivered a proper hug and introduced me to Charlie who, along with a few other members of the Lancaster Road Runners Club, would be accompanying us down into Kelly's Run and up to the overlook at Pinnacle to greet the new year.

After watching the venerable Bill Smith sweet talk a couple of State Police officers into turning a blind eye and letting us venture off into the darkness, the crew assembled for a quick group picture.

Photo courtesy of Evan Sandt
Down, down, down we dropped into Kelly's Run, picking our way over the debris that has collected in the lower portions of the ravine in the wake of the rough weather earlier in the year.  My camera refused to play nice in the dark and left me without evidence of the frequent creek crossings and the bouldery climb up to Pinnacle.

"Running" was limited by a lack of light, tricky footing and the steep clamber up to high ground, but the company and conversation were top notch.  Being on the Conestoga again with Gary, Cassie and Steve was a nice reminder of our day of adventure back in September.

The lead pack arrived at the Pinnacle just moments ahead of midnight and gathered at the rail high above the Susquehanna to soak in the view of far off fireworks displays over Red Lion, Wrightsville and more rural outposts.

The remaining members of our pack arrived shortly thereafter and we gathered above the cliffs to break open a bottle of celebratory champagne.  Bill offered up short-and-sweet best wishes and we hoisted and "clinked" our plastic cups to another year of shared experiences on the trail. 

Photo courtesy of Evan Sandt

On the return trip, the group split into two, one following the more direct white blazes back to Holtwood Park and a few others doing a true "back" on the Conestoga.  Feeling frisky, I charged up and out of Kelly's Run, catching a few of the others just before the trail dumps out into the open at the top of the climb.  With a little luck, one of these days I'll actually finish the Conestoga Trail Run with a push this hard.  Could take lot of luck, now that I think about, but what better time to dream than New Years.

After a blissfully uneventful drive home to Manheim, I caught a couple of hours of sleep, woke up to play with the kids and then headed to Marietta to meet an entirely different crew for the first (annual?) Fancyfeet DiSanto New Years Day Half Marathon.

I had enthusiastically invited myself to join in the event, having stumbled on the announcement for the event on Facebook and, as is my habit, assuming that I was more than welcome.  Only after posting my "I'm in!" did I read a bit further and realize that this was initially established as a friends and family outing by Leo DiSanto in celebration of a recent return to running and a kickoff to another year.  Leo, quite graciously and never having met me, didn't just let me tag along but offered a warm reception.  Good man.

Leo did offer some warning that this was a pretty ambitious undertaking and seemed to suggest that we may not be moving along very quickly.  My gut told me that good times were to be had, regardless of pace and my lukewarm feelings for road running, and for once my gut was to be trusted.

I met Leo, his brother Nick (the only person in the group that I actually knew), Josh and Katie in the square at Marietta and we hopped on the ribbon of trail that parallels the old railbeds along the Susquehanna River. 

We passed beneath the picturesque face of towering Chiques Rock and then followed the tracks through the old rail yard and into the town of Columbia.  That first mile or two of trail was a nice surprise but was soon left behind as we headed south toward Washington Boro.

Thankfully, traffic was pretty light and we were probably passed by as many bicycles as four-wheeled vehicles.  When we hung a left in Washington Boro, we'd covered half the route and had a rolling 6 miles left on Route 999 before reaching our destination in the borough of Millersville.

The weather was again unseasonably warm, but not unpleasantly so.  A cold rain and accompanying wind descended with just a mile or two left in the run, too late to do much more than motivate us to the finish.

I was super impressed by the effort on everyone's part and really enjoyed the camaraderie.  New friends lurk everywhere, I sometimes forget, and this day unearthed a few more.  Katie even passed along a fresh pitted dates filled with peanut butter and cayenne recipe that I look forward to utilizing both on trail and off.  As it did when she first shared the concept, my mouth is again watering as I type this paragraph.

I slept like a log on Sunday night and awoke Monday morning to don a rare shirt and tie.  I drove a somber hour-and-a-half to Ambler, Pennsylvania where the family of Debora L. Schultz was gathering to pay their final respects.  An extended running family, of which I feel proud and blessed to be part, was also in attendance to support Debora's son, Derek, and husband, Randy, two of the finest individuals anyone could possibly hope to meet who just happen to also be runners. 

Both seemed surprised to see so many people who had never even met Debora, but it was an honor and a privilege to be given the direct opportunity to let them know how deep is the affection that many of us have for the two of them.  I hope our presence was of some comfort.  Having been in Derek's shoes when my father passed, I suspect that it may mean more upon reflection than it can possibly mean on the actual day of farewell.

In spite of the unfortunate circumstances of our gathering, it was nice to see Derek, Randy, Jo, Jason, Paul and other familiar faces.

Needing to get back to Manheim, I said farewell and headed back toward the Turnpike.  As I neared home, I touched base with Lindsay and learned that she and the girls were headed out on adventure of their own and the afternoon was mine to do what I wanted with it.

So, what do you think I did?

It's been a while, or feels like it has been, since I've run at Governor Dick Park near Mount Gretna.  A surprisingly extensive network of trails crisses and crosses through the 1105 acre park and offers a wide variety of terrain and demands.  I parked just off of Route 72 and jumped immediately on loop trail #13 and followed it to #12 which meanders westward and climbs to a high point in the park, passing by the still-standing fire tower that stands as the most striking landmark in the park.

It was significantly colder than the previous two days but still not nearly as cold as one might expect in early January.  I still felt comfortably warm and sported fairly fresh legs when I reached the environmental center and gave the trail map a close look (hence my being able to quote the trail #'s above that I've never managed before to retain knowledge of).

Here I learned that the trail I've enjoyed the most is trail #15, a winding, technical 2.6 mile trail that traversing rolling slopes on its way back to the eastern side of the park.  I also discovered that an intersecting path, trail #4, was the only one with a "difficult" designation, despite appearing to be rather short in length.  I decided to keep my eyes peeled.

I'm going to come right out and say it.  Trail #4, I love you.

Steep and technical, this is the kind of trail that most cries out to me and, at least in short duration, plays to my strengths.  With some tweaks in my technique and building of endurance over the last few years, I now climb well and, most importantly, absolutely enjoy the hell out of it.  Despite beginning to feel the creep of fatigue from the preceding miles of the last couple of days, I attacked #4 and reveled in the exertion.

As I neared the top, I also understood that the morning visit to the Ciavarelli Funeral Home had me revisiting a deep well of emotions and what might have otherwise been darkness was transferred into celebration of all the things I love most about being "here" now and retaining possession of wonderful, vivid memories of those who are not.

Some "sads" are good sads and this was one of those.

As is the case after my favorite days (or consecutive days) of running, I found myself ready to get back home to my beautiful family.  My melancholy had washed away and I had nothing but genuine smiles and laughter to share with a wife and children who deserve as much of that as I can provide.

I'd bagged 25+ miles in two days to kick off the new year and cherished the exercise, the conversations and the time spent NOT inside.

With the Phunt 50K coming up on January 7th and all kinds of other challenging opportunities materializing in the months ahead, I'm as excited about my upcoming race calendar as I've ever been, but I'll trade each and every potential race for sustained health for me and my family.

2012?  Let's do this.


  1. Hey Leon,
    I posted this comment on an older post but just figured out that you had newer entries. Good talking to you yesterday at PHUNT. Dig the blog as well. What were those races you told me to check out? I am totally blanking. Good day yesterday...
    Talk to you soon.

  2. Hey, David! Glad you found the blog. I too enjoyed talking yesterday...got me over my short-day blues and I appreciate it. Hyner View Trail Challenge was the race we talked about the most. Also the Conestoga Trail Run and Susquehanna Super Hike. I'll try e-mailing you links for all three. See you at HAT if not before.